Trauma Bonding & the Narcissist – Nobody Does it Better!

emotional-rollar-coasterFeeling attached to a narcissist or sociopath even though he treats us badly is a constant source of angst for those in recovery from toxic relationships. Victims want to know why…why can’t I just let go of this guy? Why can’t I move on? Why am I obsessed with no closure? Why do I feel so connected to someone who feels no connection to me? One logical answer to this is that we’re normal and they’re not and normal people want to fix things that are broken so that they work again.

The problem, of course, is that a narcissist can’t be fixed because he was never right to begin with. In essence, the narcissist isn’t really broken at all. He simply is what he is and what he is is no good. This being true, what do we do, after a Discard, when we can’t shake the feeling of being only ½ a person without him…of feeling utterly attached even when we’re apart and even when he’s with someone else? Why can’t we disconnect from the Bad Man? Well, there is an answer to this for those who seek a deeper psychological reason for the suffering and it’s a condition often referred to as trauma bonding.

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When we think of trauma bonding, we typically associate it with The Stockholm Syndrome (TSS) – a condition named after a real-life situation where a group of hostages became emotionally attached to their kidnapers. TSS, however, although certainly similar to trauma bonding, typically occurs in life-threatening situations where the victim is literally in fear of dying at the hands of her toxic, abusive partner. Trauma bonding is more descriptive of the attachment dilemma that occurs from the type of trauma caused to our emotions (i.e. betrayal and neglect, over and over and over). It’s the type of bonding that can easily occur via passive-aggressive manipulation (i.e. sex, lies, silent treatments) and other forms of narcissistic control.

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The narcissist partner, as cunning as he or she is, understands the process for streamlining a victim’s codependency to point of least resistance. He has actually figured out – without a single day of formal training – that the best way to ensure narcissistic supply is to create trauma bonds with his targets via the method of “seduce and discard”.  He has figured out an easy way to turn us into a narcissist’s enabler.

The conditioning that leads to trauma bonding focuses on two powerful sources of reinforcement recurring in succession over and over and at perfectly timed intervals. Psychologists call this reinforcement the ‘arousal-jag’ which actually refers to the excitement before the trauma (arousal) and the peace of surrender afterwards (jag). Take a second to reflect on the narcissist’s behaviors. Creating trauma bonds is what he’s been doing his whole life!

‘Arousal-jag’ reinforcement is all about giving a little and then taking it away over and over and over in well timed intervals. Narcissists do this all the time (disappearing/reappearing, silence/chaos) whereby creating an illusion of twisted excitement that reinforces the traumatic bond between us and them. And to be clear, the narcissist feels a connection here as well only his connection is to the excitement alone and not to us. This is why a narcissist always has multiple partners because it doubles and triples his excitement factor. The fact that we – as his victims – become so attached to the chaos that we’ll eagerly await a hoover is quite an added bonus!

Are you getting it yet??

The excitement before the trauma (of betrayal and neglect) is created during the devalue stage…that point in time right before a discard when our intuition has already told us he’s going to leave based on his behaviors. It’s that knot-in-the-stomach feeling, the overwhelming urge to call his phone 100 times, the torment of cognitive dissonance…. it’s the hours spent scouring the internet looking for clues…it’s the feeling we get from the chaos that a narcissist ALWAYS creates right before the silence. Like it or not, we become highly addicted to his narcissistic behaviors and all of the nonsense that goes with it… and we miss it like a motherfucker when it’s gone…when, suddenly, the narcissist goes silent. We long for the connection – as manipulated and fabricated as it is – until we can barely breathe. Then, right before we either kill ourselves or come to our senses, in swoops the narcissist once again – like a Phoenix rising – to give us the second reinforcement: the peace of surrender that happens afterwards. His reappearance is meticulously timed for maximum effect and usually follows a silent treatment that has lasted just a tad longer than the one before. The narcissist is conditioning us to accept less and less so he can get away with more each time he vanishes.

Either way, this second dose of reinforcement – the peace of surrender – is absolutely heaven! Again, it’s an addiction – to the narcissist and the make-up sex, to the vanishing of our anxiety, and to the feeling of calmness and euphoria we get from knowing that, once again, we’ve been given a reprieve to breathe until the cycle repeats again. Seduce and discard…seduce and discard…till the end of all fucking time. And, at the moment it’s happening, we’re actually okay with that! In fact, there’s no place in the world we’d rather be.

As I am writing this, I am realizing that my ex worked very, very hard at trauma bonding. In fact, he was a Master at it, subjecting me to silent treatments (two weeks on/two weeks off) like clockwork, for months at a time, and with no explanation at all. In addition, from mid-October to mid-January every year for 13 years he made like Houdini and fell completely off the grid.  And right before leaving, he’d ramp up the chaos, making me feel horribly anxious and angry yet desperate for his attention. But I was addicted to it and he knew it.  Wayne knew exactly what he was doing!

Our addiction to the narcissistic chaos and then to the reprieve also explains why we find it so hard to maintain No Contact and/or to move on into new relationships after it’s over. No one excites us in quite the same way or with the same intensity as a toxic partner. Via trauma bonding, we become the suffering and the suffering becomes us. We forget what normalcy feels like. We stop differentiating between good excitement and bad excitement. The chaos and turmoil becomes almost as big a turn-on for us as it does for the N.

If we look back on or inward on (if we’re still in it) our relationship, we see that at the moment the Idolize Phase ends, the trauma bonding began. We may not have even known this but you can be sure that the narcissist did. As time passed and the narcissistic partner became more successful at managing down our expectations of the relationship, our connection to the nonsense began to stick like super glue. But now that we know it….that there is a name for that strange hold this bizarre person had over us..we can make sure it never happens to us again. If we’re still in the relationship, then we can get out (and fast!) because, unlike a hostage victim who trauma bonds with a kidnapper, we are NOT being held at gunpoint and we CAN escape. Let us be grateful for that fact and do what we need to do to save our sanity.

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  • Vanessa

    October 23, 2017 at 11:28 pm Reply

    I was with my husband a total of 7 years & counting. He most definitely ‘loved bombed” me for the first several months. Then, it all changed but I felt so in love with him. I put up with different abuse, cheating, pathological lies, etc. Told me so many fake stories & I knew it wasn’t adding up, but went on about my life with him. He would always withdraw any conversation, would never go to bed with me,stay up all night, and always seemed to try to upset me ( especially on my days off). He didn’t like me around. We married & exactly 1 year later he wants to move me & my daughter’s to a new town so I went along with it. 1 week later he discarded us after I put the down payment on the house. He wouldn’t come back, but asked for his clothes 2 days later & I did. He looked at me after doing that and called me scum,said he hated me, 2 weeks after put a restraining order on me BC I was texting & calling. The judge sided with him and said once he left, I had no business trying to get ahold him & it doesn’t matter if you are the wife. A year later.. restraining order uplifts. I get ahold of him through Facebook to get a location to send divorce papers. He didn’t even give me his address & insisted that I call. I caved & it’s been the worst 3 weeks ever! Like the process is starting all over again. I read the book. I own it & may need to read it again. 🙁 It’s so hard.

    • Zari Ballard

      November 12, 2017 at 11:21 pm Reply

      Hi Vanessa,

      OMG girl…please think about talking to me. You need to get out of this NOW. Hopefully, you already have since you made this post. What a complete asshole! Jeeze!! What he did is nothing less than horrible abuse and shame on any judge who would side with that. OMG. Get that divorce…do not think twice. Do it for your life and for your daughter’s life. He is no good. You made it that far, you do not need to take any steps back. Stop communicating, send those divorce papers, and be done with it. He will never ever change…his “bad” is as good as it’s going to get and that’s all you need to know. Sure, it’s hard but my God. Why give him the chance to do it again?

      Zari xo

  • Jenny

    October 9, 2017 at 9:19 pm Reply

    Once I realized that the Trauma Bond creates a chemical cocktail in my brain and body similar to an addiction, I was able to keep “no contact” with my ex husband of 16 years. I craved something that was bad for me through no fault of my own. Makes the detox easier to know this 🙂

    What I’m having trouble with these days is trusting myself. I couldn’t give a damn about him. I just don’t want to be fooled again because I sure didn’t see it coming the first time.

    That’s the legacy I find myself living with. Trusting that I won’t be fooled again. And I don’t like this. I’m a person who always believed in true love. I want to be open and to share my feeling with someone. To fall in love again……

    You know what? On second thought, I’m not going to let what he did make me cynical. He took so much else from me…time, love, thoughts, peace of mind, companionship, following my bliss….. he’s not going to get my loving heart too.

    Cancel Cancel. Deleting that program from my subconscious :))))


  • Edward

    September 25, 2017 at 1:43 pm Reply

    As a male, I feel like I’m looking at you guys like i’m a hungry child watching chocolate cakes outside a bakery store!

    Because your male Narcs come back to you and re-seduce you… Which – is tough in one way, but gives you time to strengthen yourself again and again you get reprieves, you get to think about them, and write about it.

    Us guys get little reprieve. The Narc girls still do the cheat, and the hurting, but when they leave, they’re gone.
    Makes me sad. The last few months have seemed like hell on earth.

    • Zari Ballard

      October 9, 2017 at 7:33 pm Reply

      Hi Edward,

      Oh brother, it may sound like a “good” thing but it can drag things out for years and years. It’s a vicious cycle. Much better to have them gone never to return than to allow them to do it over and over, breaking your heart a little bit more with each mighty whack. Trust me. If she’s gone, you dodged an enormous bullet. Go forth and be happy!


  • Allison Jourden

    September 1, 2017 at 7:31 pm Reply

    I’m currently in one of these relationships and I feel powerless to ending it. I’m extremely codependent on this chaos.

    • Zari Ballard

      September 15, 2017 at 5:54 pm Reply

      Hi Allison,

      We are never powerless, sister, and you can escape this madness. Read my book When Love Is a Lie to see how it’s done and if you like, book some time and we’ll chat about it. There is a way out and having support from someone who has been there and survived it can make all the difference.

      Stay strong,

      Zari xo

    • Rebecca

      September 24, 2017 at 3:17 pm Reply

      Also visit ChumpLady to find many sisters and brothers in suffering, especially if your partner is cheating. Best wishes to you!

      • Zari Ballard

        October 9, 2017 at 7:36 pm Reply

        Chumplady? Strange name for a support website. Granted, I wore my heart on my sleeve a little too openly but I’m no chump and neither is anyone else who visits here. It takes a while to figure this out and self-blame is non productive.

  • Analim

    August 30, 2017 at 11:56 pm Reply

    i fell in love with my colleague at work who happened to be married. That was 5 years ago. I didn’t want to statt any relation with him but he confronted me and stated telling me that his mariage is going to an end and he’s not happy. Since then we have been together, he keepa lying to me, giving me silent treatment especially when I ask him about any explanation for his acts.. and i end up apologizing for him when he does wrong. I found out that he just got another child, he his that from me, and still he is refusing to talk about it. And i am unable to leave him despite i have told him many times i want to leave. I just text him the next day.
    I cut my ties with all my friends because of him, i feel so lonely and desperate, why I just can’t leave him, i know he is a liar, a cheater and all he cares about is himself. I feel i love him so much, but I can’t live without. How to leave him and he’s so close to me seeing him at work everyday?!

    • Zari Ballard

      October 9, 2017 at 7:52 pm Reply

      Hi Analim,

      If I were you, I would begin looking for another job IMMEDIATELY. He is not going to ever leave his wife and he actually never had any intention of doing it even from the beginning. As long as you have to see him, it will be difficult (but not impossible). Rekindle you relationships with friends and families. Star making a life for yourself, doing things, join a meet up group for hobbies…I don’t care what it is, just do it.

      If you feel that talking about it would help, book some time with me so that I can help you. It’s all about changing your perspective and accepting that this is a deadend deal you can’t count on EVER. That’s no way to live. Think about calling me….

      Zari xo

  • Petra

    August 26, 2017 at 2:51 am Reply

    I’ve been in relationship for 3 months only and took me 5 years to forger that asshole! It was terrible time when I was dealing with this.

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